With a thick wooden brush? Oh, no, no. Not under any circumstances. The audacity was off the charts, something I couldn’t process. How could he honestly believe I would allow myself to be treated that way? Nope. I had more self-worth than that. I could tell by the way he was looking at me that he believed he was completely in the right with his decision. Who the hell did he think he was?
A dangerous man. But he was more than that as well.
Former decorated Marine.
Lifesaving hero and CEO of Powers Security.
Consigliere of the Cosa Nostra.
The most gorgeous man on the face of the earth.
Damn it. My body was overriding my brain. That wasn’t acceptable. My mind wandered to the moment the towel had floated to the floor like magic, showing off every perfect inch of him. I’d be lying to myself if I said my libido hadn’t skyrocketed, my mouth watering from the sight of his long, thick, delicious cock. The fact it had been hard and throbbing, the tip purple wasn’t something a girl could get out of her mind.
I was no longer the little pest he’d called a pipsqueak. In his eyes, I’d become a woman. I would normally squeal with glee, but I was forced to remind myself this was no fairytale. We wouldn’t enter into a sizzling romance under any circumstances. His pride and his promise to Mike would keep him from doing anything but the right thing.
My brother had snarled something in his inebriated state after returning to his house about the oath he’d forced Viper to take. I’d wanted to call him on the carpet for still trying to control my life, but he’d left me standing alone in his kitchen, sulking then storming off to bed. That had left me alone to fight my demons.
At least I’d had time to spend searching the internet. I’d found out everything I could about Viper, which hadn’t been much. His military career had been considered top secret, his work with Powers Security on the down-low given the nature of the business. And what little corroboration I’d discovered about the accuracy of Mike’s accusatory comments regarding the Cosa Nostra was from a single newspaper article over a year before.
However, the headline had been startling enough.
When Good Men Cross the Line into Evil
My imagination had gotten the better of me, subjecting me to a sleepless night.
I’d never had a spanking and certainly didn’t plan on allowing him to touch me now. “I don’t think so.”
The way Viper shifted his gaze sent a shot of electricity soaring through every cell, leaving me hot and bothered all over. After the towel had slipped past his lips, I’d wanted nothing more than to stroke the base of his cock, running my finger along the underside while I cupped his swollen balls with the other. While a part of my mind told me just how wrong that was, my thoughts depraved, the sight of his chiseled body, the colorful ink covering his torso was the stuff fantasies were made of. Who didn’t like a bad boy? There wasn’t a woman alive who didn’t crave writhing underneath a powerful muscular man, his deep voice suggesting all the filthy things he was going to do.
Shuddering, I stared into his eyes, shaking my head slowly.
“You don’t think so?” Viper growled. Dear God, his deep voice was enough to send a wave of electricity all the way to my toes. The curl of his lips, the harsh glare of his eyes was captivating, but I hadn’t dropped on his doorstep to be treated like a bad little girl.
Even if I had committed every infraction he’d accused me of. “Spankings are for little girls.”
“That’s exactly what you’re acting like.”
A wave of anger flushed through my system and I couldn’t stop the caustic words from rushing past my lips. “Fuck you. I’m not going to take this shit.” When I attempted to walk away, he grabbed my arm, yanking me against his massive body. The action was so shocking I slammed one hand against his chest, lifting my other arm to slap him hard across the face.
He was too quick for me, snatching my wrist and holding my arm in midair.
“That wasn’t very nice of you, Madisen.”
“I never said I was a nice girl.”
“That’s not the girl I remember, the one I saved from certain death when she fell from a tree. She was sweet and innocent, crying her eyes out. Do you remember?”
The incident was one I’d forgotten about. I’d been seven or eight at the time. He’d caught me in his strong arms, cradling me against him and telling me everything was going to be okay. Somehow, the wind was just knocked out of my sails. “That was a long time ago and I don’t go around falling out of trees,” I barely whispered, my heart racing from being so close to him. His scent was all male, spicy just like the man, the hint of citrus infused with the darkness of a forest after a spring rain. I took a deep breath and was caught in a sweet dream, my hero saving me from predators in the wild.
Blinking, I licked my dry lips, not realizing my fingers were stroking his carved muscles until he exhaled, his heated breath cascading across my face. He seemed much taller than I remembered, his abdomen a ripple of perfected muscles. I studied the intricate pattern of one of his tats, the dragon crawling along his forearm, disappearing under his tee shirt. I wanted nothing more than to drag my tongue along the fine lines, tasting his skin.
Girl. You need to stop. That can never happen.
“Yes, it was. Now, you just get yourself into trouble and refuse to own up to it. You’re a grown woman now and when you act like one, I’ll treat you like one.”
I realized he’d yet to release his hold, keeping me close. “I don’t deserve punishment.”
“Yes, you do. My rules. My house. Your choice.”
There was no choice. I had zero options.
“Fine. Let’s get this over with.” I managed to jerk out of his hold, folding my arms and backing away.
“Remove your coat and for God’s sake take off that ridiculous hat. You aren’t hiding from anyone. That’s not possible given your looks. Then lower your jeans and panties.”
There was no way I’d heard him correctly. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“You heard me, Madisen. I only spank women on their bare butts.”
I could tell he was getting more frustrated. “I’m not playing games with you. Either you do what I say, or I will do it the hard way. I don’t think you want me to remove your clothes, which I will do. All of them.”
Hold on. He did this kind of thing all the time? Who was he? I could feel heat rising on my face, tingling sensations drifting all the way to my toes. I wasn’t the kind of girl to be stymied by something anyone said. I was used to insults and accusations, always with a snappy comeback, but this time, I was so far out of my element I couldn’t breathe. “You’re serious.”
He said nothing, his entire face going rigid. Why did he have to look so sexy with his three-day stubble? And why had he not buttoned his jeans? I tried to swallow the lump in my throat but failed as I’d done everything else in the days since I’d left Vegas.
To add insult to injury, he sat down on the chair, the hinges creaking. Then he patted his lap. This was crazy. Even worse, I found myself reacting to his demand. I ripped off the hat, shaking my head several times on purpose, my long hair sweeping across my breasts. My legs were shaking, making me wobbly on my feet. He had no emotion on his face, other than disappointment, as I yanked off the jacket, ready to toss both items in his face but thinking better of it. I placed both items on his desk with care, shivering to my core. I couldn’t believe I’d allowed myself to get to this point.
He wasn’t my father and certainly wasn’t my brother. I didn’t need discipline in my life.
“I’m waiting,” he said in a stern voice.
I closed my eyes, my fingers suddenly icy as I unfastened my button, fighting the zipper as it caught on the lace of my panties. All I could think about was being grateful I hadn’t worn a ripped pair of underwear, choosing my red lacy… thong. Oh, my God. Then I was thankful I’d shaved that morning.
The flush of embarrassment continued, bottle rockets going off in my brain. Somehow, I managed to do as he asked, fighting the dense material as I jerked my jeans over my hips. I couldn’t look him in the eye for fear of dying from shame. I never acted like a petulant child. Why had I done so around him?
I must look ridiculous with my pants around my knees. Instantly, I placed my hands in front of my pussy, fighting to keep tears from forming. What? Tears? I never cried. I wasn’t that kind of girl.
“Come here.” His command was dark, the hint of danger sending a shower of goosebumps down my arms.
I shuffled closer, but obviously not close enough. He grabbed my arm but was gentle in tugging me forward. Then he eased me over his lap without saying another word.
“Good girl.” When I started to slip, he yanked me closer, shifting my stomach across his groin. Dear God. Was the man hard as a rock again? He patted my lower back then tapped the brush against my bottom. “I think twenty-five will be enough to teach you a decent lesson.”
Twenty-five? I sucked in my breath, fighting my nerves. As soon as he brought the implement down, I lurched forward, almost falling off his lap. The shock of what he’d done masked the pain, but only for a few seconds. I yelped, the loud sound shocking the hell out of me.
“Stay in position.” He jerked me against his body, wrapping one leg around mine.
Then he brought the brush down twice more, smacking both sides. White-hot heat exploded in my system, the scream I issued high pitched more from shock than pain. Just wiggling in his lap brought another eruption of sensations, my breath catching in my throat. I threw my hand back, only to have him catch it easily. He pinned it against my back, continuing with the spanking.
I’d heard all about how controlling he’d been during his time spent in the Marines, but this was ridiculous.
“Stop. Just stop. I’ll be good.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen. I said twenty-five and that’s what you’re going to get. Unless I need to add more.”
“No. No!” I struggled in his hold, which only resulted in receiving two brutal cracks of the wood. Even the sound was jolting, a hard thud that jarred my senses. The anguish was difficult to describe, my mind still blurry from accepting the punishment in the first place. I’d temporarily lost my mind. There was no other answer.
He brought the brush down two more times and I couldn’t see given the increase in pain. I gasped for air, tears finding their way past my lashes. I watched in horror as they dripped to the floor, hating myself for falling apart so easily. Maybe I was both emotional and irrational because of terror.
I was hopeful he’d rethought the number of swats when he caressed my bottom with the rough pads of his fingers, tenderly rolling them back and forth. When he resumed the spanking, I bucked in his hold, whimpering like I suspected he wanted. God, I hated him for this. He had no right.
“Ten more,” he said gruffly. “Maybe that will teach you about not lying to me in the future. If you do, your punishment will be much worse.”
Ten? It might as well be a hundred. Panting, I clawed the floor then smacked my hand against his leg, doing anything I could to get him to stop. He hoisted me closer, the next five swats methodical. What shocked me more than anything that had occurred up to this point was the way my body was responding, tingling sensations creating a rush of adrenaline, my nipples swelling. When I gathered a whiff of my desire, I bit back another moan.
There was no way I would enjoy being treated this way. Absolutely none. Yet as my pussy muscles clamped then released, I was certain my juice would stain his jeans. The thought was disgusting, a sinful foray into something that wasn’t allowed.
Once again, he caressed my skin and I closed my eyes, rolling my hips back and forth. When his breathing changed, becoming labored, I could tell every muscle in his hard body had tensed.
Without another word, he brought the wooden pain maker down five more times. Then he held me exactly where I was for a full two additional minutes before easing me from his lap.
“You did pretty well.”
Pretty well? Was he kidding me? I was ready to issue a volley of insults but the continued shame of what had occurred wrapped thorny claws around my throat. I couldn’t breathe, my emotions all over the place.
“Do you need help getting dressed?”
I shot him a hateful look. “No! I can do it myself like I do everything else.”
Great, Madisen. You sound like you’re twelve all over again.
Why was the bastard smiling?
I was lightheaded, my face full of extreme heat, the agony of another wave of embarrassment keeping me from reacting other than gawking at him like some fool. Finally, I had the self-worth to turn away, shaking all over as I jerked my panties and jeans into position. When I was finished, why did I find it difficult to look him in the eyes?
He remained quiet, rising to his feet and methodically returning the chair under his desk, the brush smack in the center as an ugly reminder. Then he moved in front of me, sitting on the edge of his desk and crossing his arms. I sensed he was waiting for me to start a conversation.
When I said nothing, he rubbed his eyes and sighed. “You live in Vegas, right?”
If I told him the real reason why, that I’d hoped to run into the guy who’d been my first, he’d laugh at me before tossing me out the door. That had been only part of the reason, but enough to influence me to try it. Plus, Jenny had moved with me and for the first year we’d shared an apartment. Then she had to run off and get married to some sexy doctor.
“I don’t know really. I went there once on vacation a few years ago and was fascinated by the city and the excitement. There’s an electric element that made me feel more alive than I had my entire life. I did a few paintings while finishing college and knew that’s where I wanted to live. I know it sounds crazy. I know. You don’t need to remind me like Mike does that I am a college graduate.” Painting. I’d told very few people that I painted as often as I could. Mike hadn’t happy when I’d picked art history for a major as it was, acting as if I would waste my life inside a library or museum. But that’s the only thing I’d cared about after my parents’ death.
He sighed, glancing out the window of his office. “Not silly, just surprising. You wanted to get away from Mike. You’re a dealer?”
“Blackjack. I had to make a living somehow and cocktail waitressing became old. Plus, I had to deal with some real pigs.” I laughed nervously. “Anyway, I worked my way up in the casino and make a very good living.” The correct term was ‘made.’ I had to remind myself that I’d tossed away everything when I’d walked into the wrong room.
He was cutting to the chase. All he’d need to do was search the internet like I’d done to find the truth. “Yes. It usually isn’t an issue. Just another business.”
“Uh-huh. Crime syndicates have another set of rules altogether. Who are they?”
I wanted to snap that he should know but who was I to judge?
While he wasn’t an easy man to talk to, it felt good to be getting it off my chest. “The Torino Syndicate.”
While he didn’t react outwardly, I could tell he was growing more concerned by the look in his eyes. “What did you do? Please tell me you didn’t steal from them.”
“That’s not fair. I’ve never stolen a thing in my entire life.” How dare he? Who did he think I was?
“Then what? Are you fucking Dante Torino?”
This time, my reflexes were too quick for him. I issued a hard slap, Viper turning his head while accepting the blow. He closed his eyes and I refused to back down.
“Damn you! I would never sleep with a pig like Torino. I’ve been waiting for…” For what, sunshine? As if the Lone Ranger would ever try to track you down. “For the perfect man. Sadly, I figured out they don’t exist.”
I watched as he rubbed his jaw, half laughing. “No, Madisen. They don’t.”
He slowly turned his head in my direction, his eyes piercing mine, the deep emerald even more mesmerizing than before. The look on his face made me feel guilty for what I’d done.
“I’m sorry that I acted like an ill-behaved child by coming here. It was impetuous and from what I can tell an irresponsible idea, but I thought you might understand more than anyone what I was dealing with. For some crazy reason, I thought you might care enough to help. I can see that I was wrong. Don’t worry. You won’t need to be bothered with me again. Have a great life, Daniel. I apologize again for interrupting.” I turned quickly before I chickened out, making it four strides across the floor before feeling a hard yank as he dragged me backward, spinning me around and fisting the back of my hair to hold me in place.
“You need to listen to me, Madisen. I’m not going to allow you to run and you’re definitely not leaving until I say you can.”
“Just let me go. I shouldn’t be here.” The feeling of being in his arms was protective, as if he’d just wrapped a huge, soft blanket around my shoulders, but I knew it was short lived. I was fooling myself if I believed one man could stop an entire army. I shoved as hard against him as possible, but it was like ramming my hands into a brick wall.
And the look in his eyes was demanding, possessive, as if he owned every inch of me. A fire burned in my stomach, the raw sense of fear that I’d been holding together coming untethered. I hated the feeling of being frazzled, as if I had no control over my own life.
The best thing I could do was completely disappear. Then I wouldn’t need to do everything in my power to try to place a wall between us. I had to find a way to think clearly, or I’d never be able to help myself.
“I already told you no. My word is final.”
“Final? While I came to you for help, that doesn’t mean I’m going to allow you to run my life. I left everything I have in Vegas. It’s not much, but it’s mine and I worked hard to get those few precious things. You’re rich. You have anything and everything you want. I’m not that lucky. I’m the one in trouble here. Okay?” My proclamation didn’t have any kind of effect on him. I was beginning to wonder if he had any feelings whatsoever.
“I’m not here to coddle you, Madisen. As you said. You came to me. From what little you’ve told me, I can already tell you that this is no game you’re playing. You will need to trust me. Do you think you can do that?”
Trust him? I didn’t know him, not really. I remembered the asshole boy I’d swooned over, the one who didn’t even know I was alive. “How can I trust you when I can’t trust myself?”
His expression didn’t soften with my admission. If anything, it hardened into a chiseled piece of stone. “Then hear me if nothing else. If you managed to get mixed up with the Torino organization, then I might be the only person who can keep you alive.”